Last week, Baseball Nation's Own Grant Brisbee lamented, and with good cause, the under-the-radarness of the Executive of the Year Award, handed out by The Sporting News every year since 1936.
Here's the whole list. Only one man has been Executive of the Year four times: George Weiss, who's in the Hall of Fame. Only two men have won the award three times: Branch Rickey and Walt Jocketty. Weiss and Rickey are in the Hall of Fame, and at this point you have to like Jocketty's chances. In fact, you could have made a pretty good case for Jocketty's fourth award this season if there were separate awards for each league.
But there are not. There is just one Executive of the Year Award, same as it ever was, and this year Billy Beane won it. Let us assume for the moment, though, that the E.o.t.Y. Award was, like all the big awards, given to winners in both leagues. Who would have won it? Who should have?
Well, first we must answer this question: What makes an Executive of the Year?
Is the Executive of the Year
- the executive who did the best work in assembling his team?
- or the executive who did the best work this year in assembling his team?
- or the executive who did the best work during the season in assembling his team?
I'm guessing it's the second of those. Oh, but with a codicil: It's probably -- or should be -- the executive who's done the best work not this year, but since the end of the proceeding season.*
* I contacted one of this year's voters, by the way -- the voters are top execs with major-league clubs, and they're not allowed to vote for someone who works for their club -- and he told me the voters aren't given much in the way of instructions. However, they do have to submit their ballots before the postseason begins. So, no extra credit for winning the World Series, fellas.
Anyway, I see three good candidates in the National League this year. Not coincidentally, they're the three guys whose teams won division titles.
The Giants made the smallest improvement of those three teams, by a lot. But between the last day of the 2011 season and the first day of the 2012 championship tournament, Sabean rebuilt the Giants' outfield, and probably deserves a gold star or a smiley face or something for trading Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera. He also traded for Marco Scutaro, who batted .834 during his two-month stint with the club.
How many of Sabean's moves paid off big? Three, I think: trading for Cabrera, trading for Scutaro, and signing Gregor Blanco.
The Reds and the Nationals both improved by the same number of wins, and to almost exactly the same number of wins.
In Cincinnati, Jocketty made three big moves: he traded good prospects for Mat Latos, he traded for left-hander Sean Marshall, and he spent $10 million on closer Ryan Madson. The first two of those worked out, and the third did not. But it should be mentioned that those were good prospects -- specifically, Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal -- that went to San Diego for Latos.
And in Washington, Mike Rizzo made three, maybe four big moves. Or maybe five. He traded good prospects for Gio Gonzalez. He signed Edwin Jackson. He promoted Bryce Harper before it was terribly apparent that Harper belonged in the majors. With Wilson Ramos on the shelf, Rizzo traded for Kurt Suzuki. And finally, Rizzo spent five months saying he was going to shut down Stephen Strasburg, and then he did it. You don't have to give Rizzo credit for doing that, but you have to admit that sticking to his guns made the job a bit harder.
I guess my one real issue with Rizzo's big moves was that Tommy Milone went to the A's in the Gio Gonzalez deal, and you can argue that Milone would have pitched just as well as Gonzalez actually did, if he'd remained a National. The Edwin Jackson signing worked out, but he was the Nationals' fifth-best starter and he got a market deal.
It's funny. This whole piece is premised on the notion that the National League deserves its counterpart to Billy Beane, but the truth is that no general manager in the National League did what Billy Beane did. I absolutely did not expect to wind up like this, but maybe it's so rare for a general manager to truly create a contending team in the space of one year that we just shouldn't expect more than one brilliantly performing executive per year.
It's just a really hard thing to do. A general manager's work is usually done over the course of two years or three years or more. Which is what makes Billy Beane's 2012 so incredible. Now let's see if he can do it again.